- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

THREAT TO NATO

The NATO alliance that won the Cold War must justify itself to a new generation that never faced any fear of the Soviet Union and retrain its forces to confront the new risk from Islamic terrorists, Britain’s defense secretary warned Thursday.

“NATO has to change because the challenges it faces are changing,” John Hutton told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on a Washington visit.

He also called on European nations, some of which refuse to commit combat troops to NATO missions, to “share an equal burden of the hard, as well as soft, military effort.”

Mr. Hutton said victory in Afghanistan, where 8,000 NATO troops are fighting a resurgent Taliban terrorist uprising, is critical to the fate of the 26-nation alliance. The mission, however, is hampered by multiple layers of command and other restrictions.

“It is a war we did not chose, but it is one we must win,” he said. “It is a war that will typify the very nature of the future conflict for this generation and the next.”

“We need a new NATO to fight this war,” he added, “one that demonstrates more of a campaign mentality when it is engaged in combat operations, one that is more agile and decisive, one that can deliver military as well as civil effect on a sustained basis.”

Mr. Hutton, 53, said the NATO of his youth “provided a shield behind which the freedoms we enjoy today could be nurtured and defended.”

“NATO itself was born out of the service and sacrifice of previous generations,” he added, referring to his father, who fought in World War II. “NATO was our bulwark. Without it, the freedoms my father and millions of others like him on both sides of the Atlantic fought so hard to defend would have perished.”

As the alliance prepares for its 60th anniversary summit on April 3-4 in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, NATO must renew its commitment, he said.

“Today,” Mr. Hutton said, “NATO must justify itself again to a new generation who have known nothing but peace and a united Europe but who recognize that our values and freedoms are once again under attack and who want to understand how we can best defend ourselves from these new threats.”

HONORING A VET

After his speech in Washington, British Defense Secretary John Hutton headed for West Virginia to honor the last surviving American veteran of World War I.

Mr. Hutton presented 108-year-old Frank Buckles with a framed print of the modernist painting depicting a stylized British and American soldier marching together.

“It’s a real privilege to meet Mr. Buckles,” Mr. Hutton said on his visit to Mr. Buckles’ farm outside Charles Town.

“My own grandfather was a U.S. citizen who served in the American Army in the First World War, and, in all the difficult challenges we face today, Mr. Buckles and my grandfather provide this generation with a powerful reminder of the depth and strength of the bonds that link our two countries.”

Mr. Buckles served in England and France as an ambulance driver for the Army’s 1st Fort Riley Casual Detachment. After the war, Mr. Buckles indulged his love of Britain by traveling through the country.

In London, he saw the future Queen Elizabeth II, then about 7 years old, shopping with her grandmother and sister, Princess Margaret, at Harrods department store.

The painting of the soldiers, titled “Side by Side,” was commissioned by Azalea Charities, which raises funds for wounded soldiers.

Last year at the French Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Pierre Vimont presented Mr. Buckles with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, to recognize his service.

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